Armed robber knew the right path, but was unable to follow it

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2011 - 12:03 AM

Darren Evanovich gave a video testimonial intended to deter others from a life of crime. Nine days later he was shot to death after committing a robbery.

Nine days before his death, Darren Evanovich stopped by the south Minneapolis office of MAD DADS to say hi to V.J. Smith, who heads the local chapter of the street anti-violence program.

Smith saw a chance to get an interview for a video he was planning to show to incarcerated youths. He turned the camera on Evanovich and asked him to open up about his troubled life.

What followed was an eerily prescient conversation about crime, punishment and how angry young men end up missing out on the good things in life.

"Jail is not fun," Evanovich confides at one point, "Not being able to see your brothers and sisters grow up isn't fun. ... You don't see nobody. You have no friends once you step in there."

On the evening of Oct. 20, a little more than a week later, a 53-year-old woman was accosted in a supermarket parking lot off E. Lake Street. The stranger was armed with a handgun, and after taking her money, he struck her in the head with his weapon, police said.

A man nearby saw the attack. He had a state permit to carry a pistol, and he had one with him. He chased the robber behind a restaurant and shot him dead. Police say the robber was Darren Evanovich. He was 23.

Authorities have not released the name of the man who killed him. The case remains under review by the Hennepin County attorney to determine whether the homicide was a crime.

The investigation ensnared Evanovich's sister, Octavia Marberry, this week when she was jailed on allegations of fraud and aggravated robbery. She had been with Evanovich the night he died, and according to their mother, held him in her arms as he took his last breath.

The video Smith made Oct. 11 was supposed to be a warning to youths residing at the Hennepin County Home School in Minnetonka, the county's juvenile detention center.

Smith said he planned to show the video to the kids, hoping that Evanovich's story would steer them away from trouble.

Evanovich grew up in Minneapolis and Gary, Ind., one of five children.

"He has a good, loving family, and he has lots of friends. He wasn't 100 percent bad," his mother, Mary Evanovich of Minneapolis, said in an interview Thursday.

Yet he got into trouble as a youth. In the video, Evanovich sits in an office, willingly discussing his past mistakes. He described setting up his own group of "renegade kids" on the street. MAD DADS, a national nonprofit founded in 1989, uses staff and volunteers who serve as role models to deter young people from gangs, violence and the drug trade.

Smith asked Evanovich why he first came to MAD DADS in 2007.

Evanovich says he was in a group home at the time, and sought counseling to help turn his life around.

"What made you leave MAD DADS?" Smith asks him.

"My heart wasn't into it, I can say truthfully," Evanovich replies.

"The streets were still calling you?" Smith asks.

"Yes," Evanovich says. But he regretted the decision. When he gave the interview, he was on probation for a 2009 conviction of attempted first-degree aggravated robbery and simple robbery. He said he had spent 22 months behind bars.

Throughout the video, Evanovich urges young men and women to stay in school, get a job and be productive. He says several times that missing his family was the hardest part of being in jail.

"He did have good intentions," his mother said. "Even though this was a wrong thing he did, he still was a good person."

Evanovich said her family has received threats since the shooting, including some from a Facebook page related to the shooting. She said her son had three sisters and one brother. The family plans to hold his funeral Friday.

After sharing frustration with Smith over violence among young people, Evanovich makes a direct plea to the camera and to the troubled kids he imagined would watch the video.

"Go get an education. Go be a man. Go be a grown woman. Get a life. Get something to do with yourself. Occupy yourself, occupy time. Stay focused."

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747

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